Han Suyin Obituary

Photograph: Kathinka Fox, source: China Heritage Quarterly http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/scholarship.php?searchterm=026_representing.inc&issue=026

Han Suyin was one of the most influential writers of our time. Destination Chunking (1942) and A Many-Splendored Thing (1952), which was made into a popular film, started her career as a writer. She was a passionate young woman who expressed her belief in the pursuit of love against the complex background of being a daughter to a Chinese engineer and a Belgian mother. While medicine was her professional devotion, she could not contain her passion for writing as an Asia-minded intellectual. Her lifelong struggle in reconciling the China in revolution and her connection with the outside world was reflected throughout her work. Her colourful and splendored life shone brilliantly to all those who had the privilege of encountering her in their life.

Through her writings we can recount the turmoil of modern Chinese history through the Republican China to the anti-Japanese war and the establishment of the People’s Republic. She was a passionate supporter of the revolution in China and in her work she tried to bridge understanding between China and the outside world. She pleaded China’s cause against the prejudiced views of a critical outside world at the time. As a half Chinese, her contradictions and struggle to establish her identity both emotionally and intellectually to me is the most interesting contribution to modern literature but also a valuable reflection of an increasingly integrated world. In many ways, through her determined efforts she has changed the shape of the world that we now live in.

I recall my own personal encounters with her in London during the 1960s and 1970s when she was very active along with Dr. Joseph Needham and Derek Bryan in promoting understanding between Britain and China in the activities of the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU). I was impressed by her formidable arguments against the many critics of her views. Her command of the English language was very admirable to a young Chinese student like myself who followed a similar path in trying to integrate the two distinctly different cultural backgrounds. During my many conversations with her and Joseph Needham on different occasions, I recall the intellectual brilliance and the utterly pure passion of both personalities, a synergy that was both exciting and inspiring. As a young man who came to learn from the West I was much influenced.

The views expressed in her autobiographical trilogy, The Crippled Tree (1965), A Mortal Flower (1966) and A Birdless Summer (1968) were self-revealing of someone who had to live through a period of tremendous change in the history of our world. The struggle between the many values of the Chinese tradition and the overwhelming Western impact on those values is vividly imprinted on the pages of her work. Her writings on Mao and the Cultural Revolution in The Morning Deluge (1972), Wind in the Tower (1976) and her later works My House Has Two Doors (1980) and Wind in My Sleeve (1992) are accounts of her intellectual struggle to understand the process of China reacting and opening up to the outside world. This process culminated in the open door policy of Deng Xiaoping.

Han Suyin’s work as a doctor and educator in South-East Asia is less well-known to her readers. Her complex love life as described in her novel, set in Hong Kong, and her marriages can only reveal to us that she was a woman that remained true to her heart and soul until she died on 2nd November 2012, 20 days after her 95th birthday.

A brilliant star in our sky has dimmed, yet the light that she shone during her life will still remain in our collective consciousness.

Man Fong Mei

London, November 2012



六十年代到七、八十年代的倫敦社交與學術界中,她是非常活躍,發表了不少演講和著作,在英中友好協會(Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding)的活動中,我有幸與她幾次交談,當時寫中國科技文明史(Science and Civilisation in China)的著名學者李約瑟和熱心於中英友好的德瑞克‧卜萊恩(Derek Bryan)與韓素音都是核心人物。作為剛到英國的年輕留學生,我對他們的工作、言論和才華十分崇拜,在交談中我感覺到韓素音的敏銳思維,對她用熟練的英語來反駁批評者對她的攻擊,深表敬佩,當時我決心向她學習,走向推動中西文化交流的道路,與全球嚮往人類文明先驅們共鳴。


梅萬方 于倫敦  2011年十一月